When I was a teenager, probably from the ages of 14 to 17, I was obsessed with all things California. I think because it’s glorified on TV. Or, maybe I was just really drinking The OC koolaid. But for whatever reason, I imagined it to be the best place ever, even though I’d never been. Then, I found out junior year, one of the journalism conferences my yearbook advisor always took us too was in Southern California. Needless to say, I was beyond excited. We spent four days in the Los Angeles area—and in addition to the conference, we went to an Angels game, spent a day at Disneyland, and went to Laguna Beach. I was in heaven!
Though I’ve been to San Francisco in recent years, I hadn’t made it back to LA until my trip a few weeks ago. Since high school, I’ve expanded my worldview beyond the Golden State and found new places to obsess over, but when an opportunity to travel to LA came up with my day job, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited. And, now that I’m back from the trip, I can see—once again!—why so many people love Southern California—the weather is unbeatable (no humidity!), the landscape is beautiful, it has great proximity to the ocean, and there seems to be something for everyone. If it wasn’t across the country from everyone I loved and so dependent on cars, I’d consider moving there!
I arrived to LA on Monday, and was on a work trip in town until Wednesday. Then, I took Thursday and Friday off on vacation to enjoy some time on the West Coast—and I am so glad I did! While I was with work, we were in downtown Los Angeles, and while I was on vacation, I spent time in Marina del Rey, Venice Beach, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood. This post focuses mostly on the vacation portion of my trip and the neighborhoods I explored on my time off. Los Angeles is huge and I didn’t even begin to scratch the surface during my two days. But, now that I’ve confirmed my love of Southern California as an adult, I’d love to get back again soon and explore even more—The Getty Villa, Malibu, the Pacific Coast Highway, and the Kardashian salad place in Calabasas (I’m not kidding) are high on my list.
One quick housekeeping note, I didn’t write a section below on how to get to LA. Since it’s such a hub, it’s pretty easy to get a flight to LAX! I flew direct from DCA and it’s about a five hour flight. Because of the time change, I think getting out there is a lot easier than coming home, since the latter pretty much takes up a whole day. For instance, when I landed in California after a 9am flight, it was 12 noon local time. But when I landed in DC after a 12 noon flight, it was 8pm local time. Once I was in town, I just took an Uber everywhere—though, if I had been in town longer and wanted to explore more, it would have been advantageous to rent a car since LA is spread out and a lot of the things I want to do aren’t close to each other.
WHERE TO STAY /
After checking out of the hotel I stayed with for work, I headed to the Marina del Rey Marriott. I knew during my time off that I wanted to explore Venice Beach and Santa Monica, and looked for a Marriott near those two neighborhoods that I could book with my bank of Marriott points. This hotel was on the older side, but kept up really well, and the concierge was super helpful with orienting me to the neighborhood. There wasn’t a big “wow” factor about this hotel—it felt like a standard Marriott—so if you’re looking for something more boutique-y that has local flair, this isn’t your place. And, if you’re looking for a hotel with a great pool, it’s not your place either—the one they have was very small and bordered a pretty loud road. This would be a great hotel to use as “home base,” but not spend the day relaxing at, if that makes sense. That all being said, the location is unbeatable, so I’m so glad I picked this one! It’s right on the Marina and about a 10-minute walk to Venice Beach and 10-minute Uber drive to Santa Monica.
The second night of my vacation, I moved over to the Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills. I also booked this hotel with Marriott points—and even if you don’t book with points, I highly recommend booking through Marriott than the property website so you get the Bonvoy points and night credits! This is one of my favorite hotels I’ve ever stayed at—it felt so old Hollywood glam and was very well kept up. It used to be called the Beverly Carlton, and during the 1950s and 1960s, it was a hotspot for Hollywood celebs. Marilyn Monroe even lived there for a time and famously posed by their pool. (There are some amazing old photos of the hotel and Marilyn here!)
The Avalon Hotel is a garden-style hotel, and the rooms are accessed via an outdoor hallway. In the center of the hotel is a beautiful hour glass pool. The lobby has a very old Hollywood, mid-century modern feel, and right off the lobby is a popular restaurant, Viviane. The restaurant also has tables and bungalows by the pool you can enjoy your food at, and they also have a separate pool menu that’s more the type of thing you’d want to eat by the pool—think fish tacos, a burger, french fries, brussels, the like. I would stay at this hotel again in a heartbeat!
WHERE TO EAT /
I had so many great meals while in LA. I actually ate Mexican food four times, so this trip really could be rebranded as my Mexican food tour, hah! Here’s where I ate:
- El Cholo—I ate at the Downtown LA location of El Cholo while I was with work, but there are three other locations throughout the city. I loved this spot! I went for lunch and the space itself was so colorful. The food was delicious and came out fast. The chips and salsa were hot, and the quesadilla lunch special was a great deal—it included a quesadilla, pico, sour cream, rice, and beans, all for $12. I can’t attest to the margs, but they sure looked good.
- Broken Spanish—I also ate here on the work portion of my trip, as it was a few blocks from our hotel. This menu is much more modern Mexican, and truthfully, I wasn’t super obsessed with the food. However, the margs were great and they had an amazing patio my friend and I enjoyed a pre-dinner cocktail on while we were waiting for our table. If you do want to go here, make sure you have a reservation—we got in without one, but I think it’s because there was a last-minute cancellation.
- Venice Whaler—this was my favorite meal the entire trip! If you’re in town, the Venice Whaler can’t be missed. It’s an institution in the neighborhood that has been around since the 1940s. It’s your classic beach bar, with a great rooftop deck that offers a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean since it’s one block off the beach. I ate upstairs at the bar right next to the patio, and it was an awesome vibe. I ordered a marg for lunch, because #vacation, and the burger—which is one of the best I’ve ever had! My one point off is fries weren’t included with the burger, which is always annoying, but let’s be real—I splurged for the fries, too. There’s also a to-go food stand in case you want to take your food with you to the beach.
- Shutters on the Beach—Shutters is a super cute hotel in Santa Monica, and I stopped in to check it out before dinner. They had a really cute living room area and outside deck with a bar, but there wasn’t a good place to sit when I popped in, so I decided to move on. But, I’d love to get back for a stay and a meal one day.
- Seaside at the Pier—I stopped into Seaside at the Pier for a happy hour before I met my cousin for dinner on the Santa Monica pier. Truthfully, I stopped in because the decor was so cute—it was painted a bright blue and the bar was lined with beautiful bistro barstools. I had a great glass of wine! The restaurant itself was empty, so I probably wouldn’t have stayed since it had a vacant atmosphere, but I bet it’s more lively on weekends.
- Mariasol—My cousin and I ate at this Mexican restaurant on the end of the Santa Monica pier, and we had a great meal overlooking the ocean. We split the ceviche and guac, and I had fajitas as my entree. I loved this place—it was incredible watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean!
- The Cabana Cafe at the Beverly Hills Hotel—Though the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel is legendary, I wanted to sit outside and enjoy the nice California weather. I ate right by the pool and had the dreamiest long lunch ever. Everything at the Cabana Cafe is ridiculously overpriced, but I considered it my cost of entry to the hotel. I enjoyed a Pink Palace Paloma and the California Club Sandwich. Since the sandwich portion was very generous—and it came with fries!—I asked for a to-go box. They brought me my leftovers boxed up in the cutest pink cardboard lunchbox! I would totally eat here again, $42 sandwich and all.
- Gracias Madre—While I was in town, I was able to catch up with my friend Rachel, who I interned with six years ago! She picked Gracias Madre in West Hollywood for us to catch up at, and it was a great spot. They had a beautiful patio with string lights, and a lively bar, which we sat near. If you’re keeping track, this was the last Mexican spot on my LA Mexican food tour, and it was probably my favorite. Gracias Madre is a vegan restaurant—I’m not vegan, but everything here tasted amazing. If you go, order the off menu nachos, pictured above. They were one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had! Since I was full on nachos, I stuck with a Mexican salad for dinner, and of course, a marg or two. I loved this spot!
WHAT TO DO /
When I first arrived in Marina del Rey, I walked across the street from my hotel and checked out Mother’s Beach. It’s got a roped off section of the water in the marina that’s calm and not very deep—perfect for little kids! There’s also a large sandy beach, perfect for a day of sunbathing, and a lifeguard. When I was there, a bunch of local kids were learning to swim with the YMCA and it was really cute. After dipping my toes in the water, I walked around the Marina for a little while. You can’t walk on the docks unless you own a boat, but it was fun to walk around and enjoy the scenery.
After my walk around the Marina, I headed over to the Venice Canals. They are located right off Washington Boulevard, just two blocks away from the beach. My hotel concierge gave me the great tip that if you’re facing the ocean, walk the canals on your right because that’s the side where the houses are slightly nicer and where they film all the movies. I could have walked around the Canals for days—it is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods I’ve ever been to! I loved peeking into people’s backyards and seeing all the colorful boats.
From the Venice Canals, it’s an easy walk over to Venice Beach. This would be a great spot to spend a beach day, but I opted just to take a long walk on the beach and walk the Venice Fishing Pier. It’s free to walk on the pier, and when I was there, many people were actually fishing off of it. I skipped the Venice Beach Boardwalk, but it’s a popular tourist attraction in the area if you’re in the mood for a tacky beach store!
Speaking of tourist attractions, y’all know I am a sucker for one—so I was excited when my cousin suggested the Santa Monica Pier for our dinner date. We skipped the amusement park, ferris wheel, and beach stores, but it was really cool to see the Route 66 End of the Trail sign.
On my second day in town, I went to the legendary Beverly Hills Hotel. I was actually really nervous about going because I wasn’t sure how welcoming they were to non-guests since they have such a celebrity/wealthy clientele. When I pulled up in my Uber, the bellhops greeted me like any other guest and welcomed me to the hotel, and no one once asked me if I was a guest—I am sure I am not the first or last tourist to show up! While I was there, in addition to eating at the Cabana Cafe, I walked around the hotel hallways to see the famed wallpaper, popped into the gift shop (I wanted to buy everything, but of course, it’s expensive), and walked around the outdoor areas. You’re not supposed to take pictures of the pool when guests are using it, so but I did a few stealthy ones from the cafe! After I was done inside, I walked down to see the famous hotel sign.
I spent the rest of my day posted up by the pool at the Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills. If you stay there, definitely pencil in an afternoon at the pool—it’s so relaxing and a beautiful setting. I read my book there the rest of the afternoon!
California, here we come….As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about my trip to LA, I’m more than happy to help: email@example.com.